Calgary International Airport, Canada

Pic: Peter Sellar

Canadian design firm DIALOG has had a longstanding history working with the Calgary Airport Authority, completing major expansion projects to Calgary International Airport (YYC) over the last 20 years. Because of this, the company was ideally placed to join forces with AECOM for the most recent renovation scheme, planned for the international pier in the existing terminal back in 2006.

Although the project was initially only planned to be a renovation, upon reviewing passenger forecasting, project cost and construction considerations, this soon transformed into an exploration into a new terminal design and master plan to house all international and trans-border traffic.

This master plan factored in YYC’s aspirations to become a global connector for the world, along with its ambition to be highly sustainable and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designated, while connecting with the surrounding region by showcasing the iconic views of the Calgary landscape.

Doug Cinnamon, Studio Managing Principal in DIALOG’s Calgary office, has provided design leadership for numerous projects at YYC, including the recent renovation, and he revealed just how integral a role sustainability played in their plans for the new terminal.

“The initial brief for the new international terminal building encompassed a primary commitment to sustainable design,” he said. “As such, the lighting strategy developed as a requisite for a high performance building system included controlled natural lighting throughout all public areas of the building, and LED sources for artificial lighting wherever possible.”

One of the main parameters of this sustainable approach was by utilising ‘daylight harvesting’, a key energy management technique that saw DIALOG and AECOM reduce overhead lighting use. Cinnamon explained: “The ambient natural light entering the building, captured by the skylights and clearstorey, helps contribute to the use of significantly less lighting energy per square foot than the original facility.”

Indeed this harnessing of natural light, and adding more control to any artificial lighting, played a role in AECOM’s lighting design for the terminal too, as Tony Suurhoff, Senior Lead Lighting Designer at AECOM for the project, added: “The initial design approach concentrated on illuminating floating surfaces and controlling the intensities with the use of dimming control. This way we could provide two different dramatic experiences between day and night.

“During the initial stages of the project, we toured the existing airport terminal building and noticed what seemed to be missing was the lack of lighting control,” he said. “In large open areas with sufficient daylight, all of the lights seemed to be on. We discussed lighting control with the client over many months and it became clear that a non-propriety lighting control system would benefit the client in the new terminal building. From this point on, DALI control systems with daylight harvesting were integrated into the design.”

Alongside this, to control glare and reduce heat gain through the building’s extensive system of skylights, DIALOG installed an interstitial honeycomb framework, designed to eliminate direct sunlight on check-in kiosks, but still allow a direct visual connection to Calgary’s ‘big sky’ from most public places inside the terminal.

This connection to the ‘big sky’ was key for DIALOG, not only in connecting the interior of the terminal to the outside world, but also as a way of connecting with passengers travelling to and from Calgary. “The concept of natural light as an intuitive way to orient passengers through the building was a driving force for us,” Cinnamon continued.

“We designed skylight openings in three-dimensional truss elements as a typical detail. The bays between trusses then became an ideal place for wood ceiling systems to house strips of artificial LED lighting.

“The structural span was designed in the same general direction as the path of travel through the building, from check-in through security to the centralised hold room area to create a language of lighting that works with the structural grid of the building.”

Suurhoff added: “Both the architectural design and the lighting design work harmoniously together to bring out a clear and decisive theme throughout the terminal. The primary objective of which was to be linear, sleek and minimal in size. The wood ceilings added warmth and natural beauty to the spaces, while the lighting design worked very well in providing areas of transition in low level lighting, giving a relaxed feeling.”

As well as making the most out of natural light and installing LED lighting where possible, the entire project, and all design decision-making aspects, were deeply rooted in a commitment to sustainability and passenger comfort, as the project employs lighting as part of an integrated, high performance architecture, tying it to the building envelope and mechanical systems.

However, doing so presented DIALOG with some issues; as the new lighting system was designed as an integral part of the architectural and mechanical systems, lighting control, and its relationship with building management systems in the terminal, posed a slight challenge to the firm. However, from optimised profiling of louvre shades that track the sun, to temperature-based override of localised blinds to avoid overheating in occupied areas of the building, careful planning in the hierarchy of information proved critical in bringing balance to the internal environment.

Elsewhere, the project required an array of lighting requirements, which again threw up some unexpected issues that needed overcoming, as Cinnamon explained: “In order to meet the wide-ranging lighting requirements within the terminal, our design strategy included repetitive elements, such as the integration of skylights with the repetitive cadence of the structure. This provides natural and artificial light to illuminate main open areas of the space.

“While this creates a comfortable and engaging environment for passengers, it does come with challenges, such as potential glare on check-in kiosk screens, retail environments with their own lighting strategies, and legibility of way finding systems,” he continued. “As these elements shifted through the design and construction process, we had to be agile and creative to satisfy requirements on a unique case-by-case basis.”

This flexibility across the entire process meant that DIALOG was able to overcome these issues, while still remaining true to the core sustainable principles that were in place at the start of the project. For instance, such sustainability was maintained, as steady state heating and cooling systems within the terminal are protected by double wall glazing façades, which help to prevent large swings in temperature within the main, occupied areas of the building. As Cinnamon elaborated: “These façades house operable louvre systems that shade from glare and heat gain. This approach also optimises reflected light deep into spaces of the building, thereby reducing the amount of artificial light energy required.”

For AECOM, the main issues came with the sheer size of the project, as Suurhoff explained: “The scale was the most challenging aspect for us. However, when we broke the facility down into manageable parts, through the course of approximately eighteen months, we had the design virtually complete.

“Then we revisited the design and product selection. As the LED technology market was changing at a rapid pace some of the initial product was either no longer available or had transformed into more efficient lighting modules, which in turn gave us more flexibility in lumen output, while decreasing the electrical load,” again, tying into the overarching theme of sustainability, and helping to create the kind of welcoming environment that AECOM were eager to achieve.

This is something that Suurhoff feels was essential from the get-go, and he was pleased to see this come to fruition in the end result. “The lighting in the building’s public spaces offers a calming effect, as airport terminals tend to have a higher public anxiety level than any other transportation facility. Because of this, it was deemed important to create that effect,” he said.

Alongside this calming atmosphere, Suurhoff believes that AECOM and DIALOG have combined to create an outstanding space for travellers. “The integration of the skylights, wood ceiling panels and irregular linear lighting slots gives the Arrivals and Departures hold rooms a feeling of awe, with the vastness of the space created.”

By striving for a strong connection with the outside world, creating the aforementioned feeling of awe, and harnessing the power of natural light throughout the terminal, Cinnamon added that the building enclosure itself could have been considered as a lighting element from the very beginning. “It mediates light in a dynamic way, encourages intuitive way finding for passenger flow, and allows views to the airfield and surrounding mountains, allowing passengers to immediately orient themselves upon arriving in Calgary.”

What this means is that the new terminal perfectly ties into YYC’s initial design brief and the two major themes that were paramount within this: intrinsic sustainability and regional connectivity, with a new lighting strategy that leads all design initiatives.